When young and even middle-aged women today pick me up on major gaffes, examples of hopeless social ineptitude like calling a woman a girl, or holding a door open for one — that define me as a first class male chauvinist pig in the time-honored nomenclature — I just think to myself “Where were you in 1971, bitch?” — the form it often comes out as afterwards, verbalising it under my breath, as I relive the moment. (Don’t bother saying it — I’ve already taken an anger management course for it and I’m a lot better than I was. Thanks for askin’.) That year, at 15, was when I first got seriously curious about what made women tick. Of course, growing up in a household headed by a solo mother and two older sisters, I had only become used to the “Go to your room, now!” or “Stop it or I’ll break your face!” style of feminism whenever I was deemed to have stepped out of line (and no court of appeal to discuss facts) rather than the plaintive “We just want equality/okay, more than equality” approach as women present themselves today, ladylike, in public; but this calm, assertive approach is as ruthless as ever, and can seem so rational.
Of course, only women then wrote serious polemics about what has become the abiding cross-gender study of “women’s issues” — and solely from their point of view because not only was there very little research about men to draw on but very little curiosity from women about what makes men tick. (I’m still waiting for this small level of official interest in terms of men getting seriously involved in themselves. But since it hasn’t happened by now I can only assume the strong cultural imperative from both genders that men not “wimp out” or object to their lives in any way prohibits this from ever happening: a thinly disguised version of the white feather of yesteryear sent to “cowards” who refused to sacrifice themselves or to kill on the altar of war.)
The three biggies in feminist literature were Frenchwoman Simone de Beauvoir, New York sophisticate Betty Friedan and mod icon Germaine Greer from next door in Australia. Suffice to say, they set me on the wrong track for many years on my expectations of women and forming relationships based on any kind of reality. These women authors were arguing from their own ideals as stridently independent women, maybe representing about three percent of women in those days, tops. None of the big three were in the least photogenic or appealing in a girly way. This would wait until Gloria Steinem started appearing on magazine covers as eye candy, later joined by girlish Naomi Klein and others in somewhat glammed-up attire and displaying other sexual cues — which of course defeated the purpose and the principle in a pretty big way but made the whole phenomenon of watered-down feminism more popular.
As a willing feminist at the time, I took their words as gospel and did not for one minute expect emancipated modern women to be: unalterably passive when it came to pursuing relationships with men (just flirting outrageously), to be silent or ambiguous when it came to any course of reciprocation, or actually claim changing their minds as a “woman’s perogative”. For many, many years I ignored the evidence of my own senses, thinking “Oh, she must be an exception.” My mother, seeing the trouble I was in, finally said, “I think you’re the kind of guy who will have good relationships [in later life].”
A few years later, in my twenties, I came across The Female Woman by Ariana Stassinopoulis (Huffington), who seemed to me to be letting quite a few cats out of the bag. The sisterhood — whose hold was weakening on me by this time — and who were tired of squabbling with each other about political priorities in the war against men’s privileges — was understandably concerned about this development. The original message was unalterably diverted through magazine editor Steinem and others in influential media positions compromising and playing on market forces. This trend has continued into “modern feminism” and women role models today who parade in 8-inch heels (rightly characterised as “Fuck me” shoes by Germaine Greer all those decades ago), have their faces and bodies rearranged to suit themselves (somehow said to be men’s fault) and twerk their asses off in public with strangers are said to be making important cultural statements on the importance and value of women’s free expression today.
Maybe they are.